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Thursday, April 7, 2011 06:38 am

A good old-fashioned frightfest called Insidious

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Rose Byrne as Renai and Patrick Wilson as Josh in Insidious.

One thing needs to be said about James Wan’s Insidious before anything else – there’s not one original idea in this horror retread. Seemingly working off a “Haunted House Movie” checklist, the director and his partner, Leigh Whannell, the duo behind the first Saw film, dutifully include a young couple (Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne) who have just moved into an old house; strange inexplicable noises in the attic; a supernatural visitation that affects one of their children (Ty Simpkins) and ultimately a call for help to a local medium (Lin Shaye) and her ghostbusting assistants. As I sat through the film’s first half hour, I had a sinking sense of dread that I was going to have to endure another rote cinematic exercise filled with stock characters and predictable situations. But then….Holy #&%@!

While the film is not horrific in a disturbing manner like The Exorcist, it delivers its jolts in much the same way as recent low-budget hits The Last Exorcism and the Paranormal Activity films. Working with a budget of just $1 million, Wan generates the movie’s most frightening moments the old-fashioned way, with tight editing, effective sound effects and atmospheric lighting. Lulling us into a false sense of security, the director nails us again and again, going from innocuous to horrific in a heartbeat. By the time the film’s grand set piece arrives – a séance gone horribly awry – he has us firmly in the palm of his hand.

Unfortunately, the movie’s adherence to narrative convention is its undoing during its final act as the Lamberts’ trial ends just as we suspect it will, while a couple of hackneyed choices by Wan (a closeup of hoofed devil’s feet chasing our hero?!? Come on…) undercuts the naturalistic aesthetic he strove so hard to create. Still, the movie’s extended second act is a shocker and will satisfy horror aficionados, even during repeated viewings, as well as those looking for scary fun at the movies.

Contact Chuck Koplinski at ckoplinski@usd116.org.